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Biden, in France for the anniversary of the D-Day landings, to highlight the contrast with Trump

PARIS — President Biden arrives in France on Wednesday to join world leaders in commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day, an election year visit where he plans to draw on the memory of allies united against tyranny to highlight the stakes of his campaign and draw a pointed comparison with Donald Trump.

Biden will join more than two dozen heads of state descending on Normandy alongside dozens of World War II veterans, some more than a century old. They will pay tribute to the troops from the United States, Canada and Great Britain who landed in France on June 6, 1944, in an offensive that laid the foundation for the defeat of the Nazis.

Biden is also expected to deliver a speech on democracy and freedom on Friday, according to the White House, which will give him an opportunity to place the fight against authoritarianism in a global framework. A day later, he will meet President Emmanuel Macron for his first state visit to France as president.

The theme of this week’s ceremonies — a brotherhood of nations united in sacrifice to defeat authoritarianism — factors heavily into Biden’s message in his campaign against Trump. The Biden campaign argues that the former president, who baselessly denies his 2020 defeat, is a self-styled authoritarian who would end American democracy if he prevails.

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The contrast with Trump will likely remain largely unspoken, but it will be hard to ignore. Biden turned a controversy stemming from Trump’s own visit to France five years ago, also to celebrate D-Day, into a regular line of attack, citing reports that the former president was reluctant to honor the military Americans buried in a French cemetery and allegedly called the fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers”.

Trump has forcefully denied making the remarks. But Biden brought up those reports again at a fundraiser in Connecticut on Monday.

“‘Losers and assholes!’ Who the hell does he think he is? he said, his voice getting louder. “This guy doesn’t deserve to be president, whether I run or not.”

During his presidency, Biden emphasized the need to rebuild alliances damaged by Trump and work to restore America’s role as a global leader, rejecting Trump’s “America First” agenda and decrying him as a character his peers made fun of.

Biden also criticized Trump for saying he would encourage Russia to do “whatever it wants” to NATO members if those countries don’t spend their share on defense. And he warned that Trump would give more freedom to authoritarian leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

But as Biden arrives in France, he is at odds with other Western leaders over some of his own foreign policy positions, particularly the U.S. role in the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Biden and Macron will discuss “the need for unwavering, long-term support for Ukraine,” according to the French government, but it comes as global support for a war approaching three years has declined, including in UNITED STATES.

Biden has also faced political criticism at home and abroad for his unwavering support for Israel’s invasion of Gaza, as the death toll there surpassed 36,000, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Israel launched its military campaign in the Palestinian enclave after Hamas militants arrived in Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials.

Even so, Biden’s trip is likely to be compared to Trump’s trips to France during his presidential term.

Five years ago, Trump visited Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the landings, giving a speech honoring the soldiers who gave their lives at the historic site. Macron and other leaders used their remarks to praise international institutions like NATO and the European Union, but Trump did not spend much time praising alliances born out of World War II, s ‘sticking instead to the themes of “America First”.

Trump was also criticized for using a Fox News interview, recorded while he was at the Normandy American Cemetery, to denounce his political enemies despite the solemn setting. With the white cross-shaped headstones of fallen service members in the background, Trump called former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III a “fool” and attacked then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi , (Democrat of California) of “disaster”.

Biden doesn’t need to mention Trump by name to provide a stark contrast to his predecessor’s “disastrous” appearances on the world stage, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian.

“Just by talking about how these men died trying to destroy authoritarianism, one would infer that Trump blew his visit,” Brinkley said. “But (Biden) must stay above the political fray. It would be completely inappropriate to directly attack Trump while standing on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery.”

Trump also visited Paris in 2018, a trip that became controversial after he chose not to make a planned stop at a cemetery where U.S. service members were buried. A report in the Atlantic said Trump had privately disparaged service members buried there, an account that was later confirmed by his then-chief of staff, although others on the trip said bad weather was to blame for Trump’s decision.

Regardless, one of Biden’s final stops in France will be to lay a wreath at the World War I Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the site Trump ignored.

Biden will probably be more warmly received in France than Trump. The former president was unpopular with the French, while Biden, who invited Macron to Washington in 2022 for the first state visit of his administration, is generally well liked here. Most visiting American presidents are greeted enthusiastically on war anniversaries in France, a country where the memory of the United States’ role in ending World War II is still very much alive.

Biden’s strong support for Ukraine has also won him support in France, said Renaud Girard, an international columnist at French newspaper Le Figaro. “Biden will be well received because the majority of the French population, without being anti-Russian, found the Russian aggression of 2022 unacceptable,” he said.

However, Biden may run into a more controversial issue: the war in Gaza. Biden’s strong support for Israel is at odds with the opinion of a part of French society, which believes that Israel “went too far in its retaliation after October 7,” Girard said.

Demonstrations against the war take place regularly throughout France. The latest, in Paris on Saturday, attracted 22,000 people, according to the police. Some activist groups have planned protests this week, although they are not explicitly related to Biden’s visit.

Still, Girard said, “the French public understood that Biden did everything possible to secure a ceasefire,” including his recent announcement of a plan for “a lasting end to the war.” In France, “Biden is not equated with Netanyahu,” Girard said.

Delivering an emotional speech on the beach at Normandy has become something of a tradition for U.S. presidents, who have used the setting to praise America’s military and the world order they helped create. The Normandy landings were the largest joint naval, air, and land assault ever, and despite numerous casualties, the successful operation helped make the U.S. military the premier fighting force in the world.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan delivered a resounding speech at Pointe du Hoc, considered one of his most memorable.

“They’re the boys from Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped liberate a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Biden, who like Reagan at the time has struggled with low approval ratings on foreign policy and is seeking re-election, also plans to deliver a speech at Pointe du Hoc. Reagan then won re-election in a landslide, something Biden no doubt hopes to replicate, said Brinkley, whose book “The Boys from Pointe du Hoc” examined Reagan’s speech and the U.S. troops who fought in it.

“This is Biden’s opportunity to demonstrate his deep understanding of the cost of war,” he said.

Olorunnipa reported from Washington.

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